In 2001, Senator Charles Schumer (D, New York), wrote a controversial op-ed for the New York Times. In the op-ed, Judging by Ideology, Mr. Schumer laid out a case for being honest about the ideology of a judicial nominee.
For one reason or another, examining the ideologies of judicial nominees has become something of a Senate taboo. In part out of a fear of being labeled partisan, senators have driven legitimate consideration and discussion of ideology underground. The not-so-dirty little secret of the Senate is that we do consider ideology, but privately.
Unfortunately, the taboo has led senators who oppose a nominee for ideological reasons to justify their opposition by finding nonideological factors, like small financial improprieties from long ago. This ”gotcha” politics has warped the confirmation process and harmed the Senate’s reputation.
Among fellow senators, Mr. Schumer has been a lone figure in this regard.
In July 2005, shortly after John Roberts was nominated to replace Sandra Day O’Connor—and before William Rehnquist’s death changed the order of things—an article appeared in the New York Times which described a list “of about 80 questions for Mr. Roberts that seek to determine his views on issues of concern to a broad range of special interests: abortion rights advocates, gays and lesbians, women, environmentalists, disabled people, parents, educators, journalists, religious groups, labor unions, civil rights activists and on and on.” Almost no one—especially Republicans and conservatives—thought these questions were appropriate.
I have come to the conclusion that they are not only appropriate, but vital.
I propose calling this approach The Schumer Standard and I think Republicans on the Judiciary Committee should adhere to it with religious zeal. It probably won’t stop a judicial extremist from being confirmed for the Supreme Court, but it will serve to educate the American people that a) elections do have consequences and b) the consequence of electing a radical president and a rubber-stamp Congress is even more radicals on the Court.
Every passing year, I see Schumer’s wisdom on this issue more and more clearly.